Real Solutions: Prepare Your Garden for Winter
Your local garden center was correct in recommending plants with root systems that will survive Boston’s normal winter temperatures in above-ground pots. Although their tops are plenty hardy, the roots of the types you lost are susceptible to cold damage and need warmer in-ground protection in this region.
Even when you use plants that tolerate cold root conditions, it’s important to maintain proper soil moisture around those roots. Continue watering your pots and planters right up until they freeze; then check and adjust moisture during winter thaws so that they never dry out. Protecting your plants over the winter from drying winds and late-winter sun is also a good idea; try grouping your pots together close to the building.
Potted plants also need supplemental treatments to replace nutrients that become depleted as water passes through the containers. Right now or next spring, apply an organic or slow-release fertilizer to help maintain healthy tops and roots.
We’ve just planted some trees, shrubs, and perennials around our home this fall, and we want to make sure they’re healthy after the winter. Is late autumn a good time to mulch? If so, how much mulch should we use? — J.K., Boothbay, ME
Mulches help conserve moisture, discourage weed growth, moderate soil temperatures, and look attractive. Particularly with new plantings heading into winter, it’s a good idea to add plenty of mulch for another reason: reduction of the freeze/thaw cycle that causes “frost heaving,” a potential danger where roots are still becoming established.
Be sure your soil is adequately moist; then apply mulch 3 to 4 inches deep around the root zones of your plants for the winter. Remember, though, come spring it’s just as important at that time to pull thick mulch back and away from trunks and stems to expose the root flare — where the stems and roots connect — to the air.
R. Wayne Mezitt is chairman of Weston Nurseries, Hopkinton, MA.
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